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Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious diseases expert, has promised that “the cavalry is on the way” in the form of a coronavirus vaccine but urged one last great national effort to stop the spread.
Fauci was speaking at the White House coronavirus taskforce’s first press briefing since July. He was joined by Vice-president Mike Pence and response coordinator Deborah Birx, but there was no sign of Donald Trump or his controversial adviser Scott Atlas.
The taskforce broke its long silence as the virus surges to new highs, infecting more than 158,000 Americans – and killing in excess of 1,100 – every day. The total death toll now stands at a quarter of a million. Trump, little seen in public and refusing to accept election defeat, has been accused of all but giving up on the fight.
Taskforce members said they did not support a new national lockdown or school closures. But Fauci noted the “extraordinarily impressive” efficacy of vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna in clinical trials and told reporters that he wants to “put to rest any concept that this was rushed in an inappropriate way. This is really solid”.
Fauci continued: “We now, as the vice-president said, are telling you that help is on the way, which has two aspects to it. It means that we need to actually double down on the public health measures as we’re waiting for that help to come, which will be soon. We’ll be getting vaccine doses into people at a high priority at the end of December.”
“We’re not talking about shutting down the country. We’re not talking about locking down. We’re talking about intensifying the simple public health measures that we all talk about: mask wearing, staking distance, avoiding congregant settings, doing things to the extent that we can outdoors versus indoors. If we do that, we’ll be able to hold things off until the vaccine comes.”
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, added: “Now I’ve used that metaphor that the cavalry is on the way. If you’re fighting a battle and the cavalry’s on the way, you don’t stop shooting. You keep going until the cavalry gets here, then you might even want to continue fighting.”
White House coronavirus taskforce briefings were an almost daily occurrence during the first surge of the virus in April, with Fauci and Birx becoming household names. But they fell away during the summer as the president fought the election campaign, suffered his own infection and increasingly derided Fauci. He brought in a new adviser, Atlas, who has falsely attacked the science of face masks and state measures to reduce infections.
Pence said Thursday’s briefing was taking place at Trump’s request, but he took no questions either about the virus or his boss’s refusal to acknowledge that Biden won the election.
The taskforce acknowledged that infections and hospitalisations are rising across the country. Pence acknowledged that the test positivity rate over the past 30 days has risen from 5% to 10%, and in some parts of the country is much higher. Birx, pointing to a graphic, added: “This is more cases, more rapidly than what we had seen before.”
But Pence also insisted that the country is much better prepared in terms of personal protective equipment and other resources than it was at the start of the outbreak, as well as a system and kits to distribute a vaccine.
“America has never been more prepared to combat this virus than we are today,” said the vice-president. “The day after one of these vaccines is approved we’ll be shipping vaccines to the American people and within a day after that we’ll be seeing those vaccines injected into Americans.”
He added: “We’re getting there, America.”
On Thursday the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) urged Americans to avoid travel over the Thanksgiving holiday. Birx added her voice calling for “decreasing those friends and family gatherings where people come together and unknowingly spread the virus. Every American needs to be vigilant in this moment because we know that when you are, we can mitigate this virus and stop this spread together.”
But Pence also ruled out the type of mass closures of businesses that America witnessed in the spring. “President Trump wanted me to make it clear that our taskforce, this administration, and our president does not support another national lockdown, and we do not support closing schools.”
The pointed remark about schools came a day after New York officials announced public schools would once again close after the city’s positivity rate hit 3%.
Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, argued that it is possible for schools to safely conduct in-person instruction. He insisted: “They can do it safely, and they can do it responsibly. The infections that we’ve identified in schools, when they’ve been evaluated, were not acquired in schools. They were actually acquired in the community.”
The big threat in transmission is “not the public square, but family gatherings” where people get comfortable and remove their masks, Redfield added.
Alex Azar, the health secretary, said Pfizer would seek an emergency use authorisation Friday from the Food and Drug Administration for its coronavirus vaccine. The application and clinical trial data will be reviewed by an independent board of scientists before approval is granted. Azar added: “Hope and help are on the way.”
Moderna is expected to file for emergency approval for its vaccine candidate in the coming weeks.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Coronavirus taskforce briefing: Fauci urges vigilance as vaccine is in sight | US news